The Florida Tech Panthers earned their first Gulf South Conference Football win of the season with a 30-12 home win over Delta State on Saturday night. The victory moved the Panthers to 3-0 on the young season.
Florida Tech scored on their first three offensive drives, opening a 21-0 lead over the Statesmen and the defense did what the defense has done all season, keeping the opponent in check. Delta State had 193 yards in total offense, while the Panthers racked up 403 including 219 on the ground and three touchdowns.
“Defensively, lights out again,” said Panthers Head Coach Steve Englehart. “They were all over the field.”
After forcing a three-and-out on Delta State’s first offensive possession, the Panthers took over at midfield, helped by an unsportsmanlike penalty on DSU. A Trent Chmelik to Romell Guerrier nine-yard completion started things and on the next play, Chmelik aired it out, finding a diving Guerrier in the end zone for the 41-yard score, capping a 25-second drive and giving the home team a 7-0 lead.
Guerrier finished the night with 10 catches for 127 yards and that one touchdown.
After the defense held DSU again, the Panthers took over at their own 21. A holding call on Delta State was followed by Chmelik handing to Antwuan Haynes, who found a seam and galloped 69 yards, for the Panthers second touchdown, coming in 12 seconds of possession time.
“I needed to trust my o-line and that’s what I did,” said Haynes of the run. “It was a big hole that they made and I mean I just did what God gave me the ability to do, make them miss and go score.”
On the ensuing kickoff by Kyle Gullikson, the Panthers coverage team jumped on a loose ball that was misplayed by Jakaylen Jackson and recovered by Panthers Omouri Skinner at the Delta State 19. It took just three plays for the Panthers to score again, as Austin Evarts scampered the final 11 yards for his first of two touchdowns on the night. Just like that, with 10:54 still to go in the first quarter, the Panthers were up 21-0.
“We always are looking for those explosion plays and we were able to get ’em early,” said Englehart. We game planned for them all week and our kids executed those.”
Austin came in and did some great things for us at our wildcat quarterback position,” Englehart continued. “He ran the ball really well.”
It took Delta State and quarterback Patrick Shegog, seven possessions to run more than three plays, their second possession of the second quarter went five plays and resulted in their only offensive score of the night, a 22-yard pass to Tyler Harrell, making it 21-6 with 10:40 to go in the half.
On the extra point attempt, the Statesmen couldn’t corral the snap and J.T. Hassell picked up the fumble and took it all the way to the end zone, resulting in two points for the Panthers. You know things are going your way when you can pick up points immediately after giving up a touchdown. With that, the Panthers led 23-6.
“Defense all around, no doubt in our minds, best in the GSC,” said Panthers linebacker Evan Thompson. “We bring it every week. We know what we’re doing, we know how to do it, and we get things done.”
The Delta State kickoff went 65 yards and a bad decision by Panthers freshman Kiaryn Davis to field it, put the Panthers at the one-yard line, as Davis was not able to get away from the oncoming rush of Delta State’s coverage.
“It was a mistake by a freshman in there,” said Englehart. “He (Davis) was the squirrel in the middle of the road and didn’t know which way to go, so he got run over and ended up taking a knee at the one, I guess is what happened.”
The Panthers didn’t panic, as Chmelik engineered a 14-play, 99-yard drive that featured a nice mix of run and pass, culminating in Evarts cashing in on a 21-yard run, giving the Panthers a commanding a 30-6 lead, and taking 7:02 off the 2nd quarter clock.
After the touchdown, the Florida Tech kickoff was initially run back for a touchdown only to be nullified by a personal foul as Joseph Minniefield was flagged for continued participation without a helmet.
Delta State (0-3, 0-1 GSC) then mounted a 10-play drive on their final possession of the half, but a sack by Thierry Lafortune with an assist from Richard Leveille ended the threat. Florida Tech ran out the clock from there and went into halftime up by 24.
With 7:36 left in the third, the DSU defense forced a turnover when a big hit forced Evarts to lose the ball. The Statesmen could do nothing with it, as Evan Thompson came up big with a sack, putting an end to that drive.
Delta State got their final touchdown of the night on a pick-6 by Darren Gardenhire, who read Chmelik and took the ball back 15 yards, with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
“We gotta make a better decision all the way around on that,” said Englehart of the interception.
The fourth quarter was a costly one for the Panthers, beginning with sophomore Dezmond Morgan, after initially getting a sack, being called for targeting and being ejected from the game.
Minutes later, after Robert Foy was hit clean, but hard by the Delta State defender, he stayed down for a bit but eventually made it to the sideline. The next play was a 75-yard completion to Guerrier that included a key block by Terrance Bynum, who leveled Gardenhire with a clean hit. Unfortunately, Bynum was called for a personal foul, after standing over Gardenhire, costing the Panthers the touchdown.
“I have to see that on film, they said it was unnecessary roughness, but they called it for him talking to the person after he pancaked him,” said Englehart of the Bynum play. “If it was and you can’t talk, then it’s an unsportsmanlike, but it’s not unnecessary roughness. If he did something wrong then make the appropriate call, I’m okay with that, I just want good explanations from it so I can help coach these kids to not make the same mistakes.”
“That took points off the board at a crucial time,” Englehart continued. “I think there was 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and that was a touchdown that put the game away, a couple big plays and an onside kick you never know what can happen but our defense gets a stop and our offense did a great job of really grinding it out.”
Initially, Bynum was ejected because it was his second unsportsmanlike penalty of the game, but after further discussion, he was allowed to stay in when they decided it was unnecessary roughness, which falls into a separate category. Very confusing all the way around.
“I really don’t know how to explain it,” said Englehart. “It baffled me.”
Despite having that late score taken off the board, the Panthers went on to a convincing victory. Chmelik finished the night 19-for-28 for 184 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked three times and picked once.
For more info: Delta State @ Florida Tech Box Score
Haynes, on the strength of that 69-yard run, finished with 88 yards on 14 carries. Evarts carried 11 times for 76 yards.
“It’s really nice to start up 1-0 in conference play,” said Evarts. “We just gotta take this momentum into next week and go win next week as well.”
“Our goal is to be 1-0 after every week and don’t look forward to anything just look forward to what’s at hand,” said Haynes. “It’s great to win, I feel good about it and I know coach feels good about being 3-0.”
Next week will prove to be a tough test, as the Panthers head to West Georgia for another GSC showdown. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.